Fear of a societal breakdown amid the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a surge in gun sales across San Diego County.
Firearm dealers from El Cajon to San Marcos reported last week a massive uptick in sales, saying the demand was being driven by first-time buyers, and was depleting their stock of guns and ammunition.
“It’s busier than Black Friday all day long,” SoCal Gun employee Patrick Jones said Wednesday. He added that the wave of sales at the Kearny Mesa store was unprecedented.
An employee at the door allowed no more than 20 customers inside at a time. “It’s just too busy,” Jones said.
Although gun dealers said they had not yet reviewed sales figures, some offered estimates.
In Kearny Mesa, GlockStore founder and CEO Lenny Magill estimated that his store’s gun sales alone had tripled in the last week and a half or so. Overall sales, including ammunition, holsters and safes, had at least doubled, he said.
“Our biggest challenge is getting replenishment stock,” Magill said last week. “Everyone’s out nationwide. It’s not just San Diego.”
He added: “We can’t find any Glock handguns available in the marketplace.”
While stores were running low on certain types of firearms, what seemed to be going first was ammunition.
Because of that, North County Shooting Center in San Marcos was limiting ammunition sales to customers who were buying a gun or using the on-site shooting range, a manager who only gave his first name, Patrick, said by phone.
In El Cajon, AO Sword Firearms owner and CEO David Chong faced a similar issue. He said Friday his distributors and manufacturers were out of firearms and ammunition, limiting his ability to restock.
Chong said gun sales at his store had increased tenfold. He predicted the store will be out of guns to sell in two weeks, if not sooner.
“It’s never been this busy,” he said.
To abide by social distancing rules, the store on Friday allowed no more than six customers inside at a time and set up chairs outside about six feet apart for customers waiting in line.
Just before noon Thursday, Daniel Franck, 55, of El Cajon, pulled up to the store. Already a gun owner, he was there for maintenance on a .22 long rifle and, in the face of the coronavirus, to look for a second firearm — a shotgun.
“People are just getting stupid,” Franck said. “You go to stores (and) people are getting angry, the shelves are empty — something I’ve never seen in my 55 years.”
He continued: “You see empty shelves in Third World countries. You don’t see it in the United States.”
Franck said he’s undergone five back surgeries and doesn’t feel capable of “physically” protecting himself or his family.
“If things do get really crazy — someone comes into my house — I want to be able to protect me and my family,” he said.
While videos of shoppers fighting over toilet paper have circulated on social media, reported violence in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic does not appear to have been widespread. Still, Franck was not alone; Other gun shoppers also had a picture of an unruly future on their minds.
“Everything’s going crazy,” said Irvine resident Yahya Al Shalali, who works in San Diego County.
Shalali, 35, paid AO Sword Firearms a visit to get a firearm safety certificate, and look for a gun to protect himself and his family, he said.
Having heard and seen on social media people “going crazy” over food and household goods, he fears that in the midst of a supply shortage, as time passes, people will run low on essentials and ransack homes, weapons in hand.
“I want to be ready for that day,” he said.
About 40 minutes later, he was one step closer to owning a gun. Holding a small laminated card in his hand, he smiled as he walked out of the store. He had passed the test for the firearm safety certificate.
As for buying a gun, Shalali said he could find one for a cheaper price in Irvine.
Moments later, Kelly Morgan, 52, walked up to the store to buy ammo — in part because of the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
“You know, Rome fell overnight,” he said. “It didn’t fall at night, but it fell overnight.”
With the spread of the virus, there’s a chance in his mind that law enforcement forces won’t be able to uphold law and order if, say, officers feel the need to protect their own homes.
“When that happens, I just want to be safe,” he said. “If you’re ready, you don’t have to get ready.”
The uptick in gun sales has raised concerns about the risk of guns in homes. Kristin Brown, president of Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a national organization that advocates against gun violence, said the decision to buy a gun in fear of the coronavirus pandemic increases the chances of unintentional shootings that could harm or kill children, suicides and domestic violence.
With more kids at home as a result of measures imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and most recent gun sales driven by first-time buyers who likely don’t have a strong, lifelong sense of firearm safety, the concerns are elevated, Brown said.
If people truly want to protect their families, she said, they must engage in safe-storage practices, including keeping guns unloaded in a locked container, with ammunition stored away separately.
Gun store owners including Magill, of the GlockStore, and Chong, of AO Sword Firearms, said their employees promote firearm safety and encourage customers to undergo training.
They noted that under state law, gun buyers must wait 10 days before taking home a firearm and demonstrate they can load and unload the weapon.
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